WASHINGTON (AFP) - Washington on Thursday blacklisted a dozen overseas companies and individuals for evading sanctions on Iran in a show of strength to coax Congress to back off new moves against Teheran and warn Iranian leaders to comply with a nuclear deal.
"Today's actions should be a stark reminder to businesses, banks and brokers everywhere that we will continue relentlessly to enforce our sanctions, even as we explore the possibility of a long-term, comprehensive resolution of our concerns with Iran's nuclear program," said Mr David Cohen, Treasury under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
US citizens or companies are barred from engaging in transactions with any of the firms and individuals named on Thursday and their assets will be frozen in the United States.
Those listed include the Singapore-based Mid Oil Asia and Singa Tankers, both companies accused of helping Iran transfer badly-needed funds to a foreign bank on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Company.
Ukrainian national Vitaly Sokolenko and his Odessa-based firm Ferland Company Limited were also cited for helping to broker the sales of Iranian oil and transfer the crude ship-to-ship.
The surprise action came as US lawmakers are actively considering slapping new sanctions on Iran, to up the pressure on the Islamic regime to remain faithful to a Nov 24 deal struck with global powers.
US Secretary of State John Kerry this week returned twice to Capitol Hill seeking to dissuade lawmakers from drawing up new legislation which could be unveiled before Congress leaves on recess for the end of year holidays.
Under the interim deal reached in Geneva, Iran agreed to freeze parts of its suspect nuclear program in return for some US$7 billion (S$8.8 billion) in sanctions relief as it negotiates a final, comprehensive accord to dismantle its nuclear weapons capability.
The United States also agreed to refrain from slapping new sanctions on Iran, but senior administration officials argued Thursday's measures were taken as part of the existing sanctions regime which had forced Tehran to the negotiating table.
"Sanctions pressure will be essential as we seek to negotiate a comprehensive long-term resolution," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call.
"So during the six-month tenure of the joint plan we will continue to vigorously enforce our sanctions programmes" with the aim of tightening the pressure on Iran's already struggling economy, he said.
"The message to the Iranian government remains clear, the only escape from increasing sanctions pressure, the only path out of deepening economic distress is to negotiate and make the necessary concessions to address the international community's concerns with their nuclear programme."
But he argued that "this should not come as a surprise. we have been explicit that the overwhelming of majority of our sanctions... remain firmly in place".
He dismissed the notion, however, that Thursday's designations were aimed at sending a message to Congress to lay off new sanctions, saying they had only been announced once State Department and Treasury had all the evidence in place.
The US State Department also named five Iranian entities and several people that it alleges provide goods and services that contribute, or risked contributing, to Iran's nuclear program or its development of ballistic missiles.
The US officials also warned that the limited sanctions relief promised under the Geneva deal, did not mean that Iran was now open for international business again.
"There's no reason to think that there's great business opportunity in Iran today. The majority of their banks remain isolated from the international financial system," the senior official administration official stressed.
And he warned that the energy sector - most notably Iran's vast oil reserves - remained subject to stringent sanctions.